I had three unplanned days off recently. Back spasms brought my busy schedule to a screeching halt. The Lord was serious when he inspired the words that King David wrote in the 23rd Psalm, “I will make thee lie down in green pastures.” I even had to find a replacement for a wedding I was to officiate.
The older I get, the more I recognize that these times often precede specially blessed, extra-productive times. They set me up for success. That's hard to believe for those of us who have lived by the motto, “The harder I work the luckier I get.”
In his book, “Margin,” Dr. Richard Swenson illustrates the necessity of restful times. Imagine how difficult it would be to read a book with no margins — no white space, he writes. When every inch of a page is filled with words, all the way to the edge, reading is difficult, stressful and tiring. Many people live with no margin in their lives — every waking moment of every day is filled with activity and stimulation. I sometimes get stuck in that pattern.
But, what is “margin”? Not all recreation qualifies as margin. The stress of vacation is different than work and often worth the effort, but too often it is far from restful. The vacation experience was enjoyable but little more than a diversion. Too often, summer vacations are not an experience of re-creation of the soul.
In order for a person to experience re-creation there needs to be stillness and quiet. Eugene Peterson, the author of “The Message,” a paraphrase of the Bible, once said, “A busy mind never thinks deep thoughts.” I heard this years ago when I was learning the art of stillness by visiting a Catholic monastery in Conyers, Ga. The quiet retreat, whether it was for a half-day or a day and a half, was a welcome sabbatical. My brain activity calmed down so my thought process was more thorough and focused.
Every week our churches invite people to rest and experience re-creation. Come and sit still, take a deep breath, think introspective thoughts, worship an awesome God and discover how much of your burden He wants to remove from your shoulders or how He will help you carry it. Tap into His resourcefulness for your needs or His gift of new opportunities. In a variety of ways, the churches speak the message of Jesus, “Come all you who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest.” Cultivating the discipline to come and be still, quiet and listen helps us incorporate the experience into our daily lives.
In my slower, restful, injured mode I meditated, prayed more and felt more deeply. Surprisingly, unpleasant circumstances often produce the opportunity for stillness. The white space between jobs can be a painful time of fear and need, but it can also be a time to listen, think and get ready for a new chapter of life, a new idea to pursue and a new energy for new relationships and a fresh setting.
My friend Darryl Chaney, whom I wrote about in the book “Welcome to the Big Leagues,” every season but one, had a one-year contract. Each December he had to be still and wait for the front-office people to decide his worth during their winter meetings and mail him a contract. The waiting became part of his character development and preparation for a new season.
What seems like the worst possible thing, a terminal illness, brings what is normal to a sudden stop and the need to face difficult questions. As a hospice chaplain I have observed people who have faced this chapter of their lives with intentionality, purpose and grace. They allowed the hospice staff to take the burden off of their family and help them be comfortable so they could write the most important chapter of life and finish spiritual work, pass the blessing to the children and grandchildren, mend fences and savor the experiences, relationships and memories that made their life meaningful.
Planned or unplanned, temporary or permanent, times of stillness should be maximized so we can experience re-creation for our souls.
Dan Hettinger is director of pastoral services at Hospice of Saint John and president of The Jakin Group, a ministry of encouragement, especially to Christian workers. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or dan@welcometothebig leagues.org.